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Support for downtown Spokane stadium voiced in public forum

The board of Spokane Public Schools held a virtual public meeting to hear input on a new proposal to replace the Joe Albi project with a downtown stadium.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The board of Spokane Public Schools held a virtual forum Tuesday night to get public input about a proposal to build a stadium in downtown Spokane, rather than at the existing Joe Albi Stadium site as is currently planned.

Only a couple dozen people spoke at the event. All but two were fully in support of the downtown concept.

In 2018, SPS voters approved a half-billion dollar bond that included $31 million for a stadium to replace the decaying and oversized Joe Albi facility. That same year, the City of Spokane held a separate advisory vote asking its voters to weigh in on whether that new stadium should be built at the same site or downtown. More than sixty percent of voters favored the Joe Albi site.

Later that year, the SPS board elected to side with those voters and move forward with a replacement project at Albi. That project is currently ending the design phase, and contracts for construction are scheduled to go out in a few weeks.

However, local business leaders are now engaged in a last-ditch effort to get the stadium downtown instead. They presented their idea to the board last week, saying a lot has changed since 2018. They cited a commitment from a minor league soccer team to play at a downtown Spokane stadium, an improved plan for parking, newly publicly owned and available land near the Spokane Arena, and the increased need for an economic kickstart due to the pandemic.

Board members chose not to offer their thoughts following that presentation, instead arranging to receive public input through a digital survey as well as a pair of virtual forums, the first of which was held Tuesday night.

Many of those who signed up to speak argued the advisory vote needs to be forgotten. They said it was confusingly worded, and pointed out it only polled voters inside city limits, meaning thousands of school district residents were left out, and thousands who actually live in other districts like Mead weren't allowed to weigh in.

"People did not have an understanding of what they were voting for," said Daniel Jones. "The advisory vote was one where I too was not able, and my family was not able, to participate in that."

"I totally understand that there was an advisory vote in 2018," said Thomas McNeiece. "That was a different time."

For supporters of this idea, much of the allure comes from being able to host football games and other events in a central location rather than the Albi site, which is far to the northwest part of the city.

"[The] number one reason I really support the downtown stadium is location, location, location," said Dave Hughes.

"We have lots of who would like to go to games, and it's really hard for them to get to Albi, so they don't go very much," said Stacey Ward.

"If you build the stadium at the Joe Albi site, just like so many have already said, many of the kids, especially the lower-income ones, may not be able to go there," said Terry Fossum. "Public transportation, like they said, doesn't go out there nearly as often. You're certainly not going to walk or ride your bike out there. But here's the important point: not every mom or dad can take the time to get off work to get their kids to sports."

The proposal also involves the school district handing over responsibility for actually running the facility to the Public Facilities District, a move that proponents say would save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

"As a taxpayer, a fiscally conservative taxpayer, I want my tax dollars stretched as far as possible," said Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner. "And the cost savings... there's no difference between being at Albi and being at the downtown stadium. I want my school board focusing on education, not running a stadium."

But two of the speakers weren't fully on board. One didn't oppose the downtown concept directly, but was concerned the stadium would create noise that would interfere with the nearby Spokane Civic Theater.

"There are lots of good things about this proposal. But everybody is ignoring the Spokane Civic Theater. It's not even on your drawing," said Jamie Sciarrio. "Why do the arts always get the shaft?"

Another simply felt there are already too many things in that area near the Spokane Arena.

"The stadium should be out there [in northwest Spokane] instead of crowding in [downtown] Spokane," said Byron Potter.

The board members still have yet to state their opinions. They're hosting another one of these forums at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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